The Blank Tapes on Loving S.F., Writing Too Many Songs, and Getting Busted in Colorado
Otherwise known as the Blank Tapes, Matt Adams is a bit of a music machine -- since 2003's Country Western Honky Tonk Saloon Blues, he has released more than 100 songs and played almost all of the instruments on each one.
Adams has toured the country, written music in a van -- well, sort of -- and even been slobbered over by Rolling Stone. Next month, he's playing at SF Weekly's All Shook Down Music Fest, so we caught up with him to pester him with all the questions we were wondering about.
You've released a lot of music in last few years -- do you get that a lot?
There's a lot more that's unreleased. I'd say that's only about a third.
It all depends on how many shows I'm playing and where I'm at. On average I'd say I like to record at least a few month. I tend to write at least two or three songs a month.
You play almost all the instruments in your recordings. What don't you play?
I play 99 percent of the instruments. I started off playing piano in grade school. I didn't learn too much about actually writing music, just learning classical pieces. Then I learned how to play guitar going into high school, then I picked up drums, bass -- that was easy. ... With drums, I kind of was able to pick up all the percussion instruments pretty easily, like how to play tambourine, plus random little things here and there like recorder. I can barely play violin. I can't do any horn instruments. I can pretty much play all of the rock band instruments.
There have been a couple times when I wanted to play with a live drummer -- that's the main thing I've had. I've also had friends sing because I like having different voices. But usually it's drums, and a couple times a friend of mine will write a nice bassline and I'll have him play. Every now and then I'll have a violin or trumpet.
Since you play almost everything in your recordings, how do you like playing live with other musicians?
I love playing with the live band. I love focusing on guitar and singing and also hearing the songs that I more or less orchestrated come to life. It's just a matter of me teaching the guys the parts. Sometimes my band members tend to come up with very interesting parts that I didn't think of, and sometimes we'll end up using those later in the record.
Sometimes you perform with six or seven other musicians. What's that like?
In the recordings I usually have at least eight tracks at once. It's nice having that full sound and that big presence onstage with all the people. I also sometimes just prefer having a three-piece band, where you can control the dynamics a bit more and focus on the individual parts, where you can really hear the bassline and the guitar.
You're from southern California. What brought you to San Francisco?
About six years ago, I had spent my whole life living in Orange County, and I always wanted to get out of that area just to try something different. Every time I'd come up to San Francisco, I'd feel this certain magic, this feeling, the love, and it was just inspiring. It was different from where I was from in Southern California, with the crazy weather and the crazy buildings here -- crazy Dr. Seuss psychedelic works of art, more or less.
I always really liked the music, the psychedelic '60s thing that came out of here. I always thought it was a great city, a beautiful city, and I had a few friends I was playing shows with here. The more I visited, the more I felt I had to be there. I had a girlfriend I was trying to get away from, but the main thing was that I loved San Francisco.
As soon as I moved up, within a year I pretty much made all my best friends that I still keep in touch with today, that still play in my band. It all worked out -- synchronicity and all that. Everyone just kind of found each other, and I feel like that was a real magical point for our community.
Your music covers a lot of territory under the pop-rock umbrella.
Listening to my records you can hear how my music has changed, but what most people don't know is that even with that first actual release, Country Western Honky Tonk Saloon Blues -- that one's really folky, but at the same time I was recording psychedelic rock, I just didn't release it.
Your most recent full-length album, Home Away from Home, seems more focused, electric, and dark than your previous stuff. What happened?
There's a huge difference. Home Away from Home was me going, "Okay, everyone wants to hear a short album that's really concise and is more like a conceptual piece. I'm gonna make my conceptual, 10-song album that's all focusing on this particular sound and style."
Before, with my other albums, I split each one into two different styles. I just have so many songs [that] I just want to release them all and let people sort through them, but a lot of critics say it's too long.
Home Away from Home was recorded in a van -- what was that like?
The funny thing is that someone misquoted me. I didn't actually record the album in the van. But the thing is I kinda liked that. We can keep playing along with that [laughs].
I was on a big, long, two-month solo cross-country tour. I was by myself. I was touring my album Daydream, and at the time I had so much downtime that I was writing new material, like Home Away from Home, and driving out of my mind.
I started writing this song on the piano when I was in Utah. And as I was driving [through Colorado], I was thinking of lyrics and I was just singing the song in my head, and I didn't even realize that I had gotten off the freeway and I was in a little town. But I was still driving pretty fast, and I got pulled over because I was speeding. I was just kind of in my own world.
But I was singing, "Riding the wave on the pavement/Driving out of my mind," as I was driving, and then I get pulled over and got in trouble. And, I won't tell you the rest of the story -- nothing ended up happening, but I probably shouldn't be going back to Colorado anytime soon.
When I got back, a couple months later, I moved into Oakland and then recorded most of the album in a shed in my backyard, to clarify that myth.
What should someone hearing about the Blank Tapes for the first time know about you?
Expect having your mind blown at our show. We'll be full on, with all the bells and whistles. It will be one of the last shows you'll be able to catch us at for about four months. I'll be leaving the country. I'll be touring Brazil. For now, it's one of the last shows I have booked for the Bay Area.
Other than that, big plans: I have many, many new albums coming out when I have time to release them. I'd say I have about 200 songs that are yet to be released.